Sunday, January 5, 2014

Because of Mr. Terupt

     I spent this afternoon consumed in the book, Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. I originally bought this book for my classroom, but as I read it I felt that it was worth it even if I end up being the only one to read it. I found this book when I was searching for others on Amazon. It kept coming up as one of the most sold ones. After reading the description (copied in italics below), I knew that I need to read it and some of my kids did too.
     It's the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffery, who hates school. Only Mr. Terupt, their new teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn't let them get away with much... until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything - and everyone.
     In my class, I have at least one student if not multiple students that could fit into each of the bolded names above. Reading this book and seeing how these kids' lives affected them in the classroom was like watching a scene play out from my classroom. I'm willing to bet that many teachers would also relate. After all, I only have 14 students and if they can fit into these 7 kids lives, wouldn't a class full of 20 or more students fit even more so?
     This book does an excellent job showing how kids' emotions, home lives, friendships, and pasts all intertwine to make up who they are. This background is so important and can't be overlooked by teachers, who are sometimes more concerned with test scores. Impacting a child's emotional side, including friendships and relationships with their parents, can leave a much greater impact than simply teaching what they need to learn to move on to the next grade. This book was a great reminder for me as I begin our third quarter on Tuesday; it definitely has made me stop and think.
     My students come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some have lived all over the world: Canada, China, Nigeria, South Korea, and the US, just to name a few. Many only live with one parent. Some get to see the other parent; others don't. I have had students cry in class about this. They don't feel understood by their peers, yet so many peers just fail to admit to them that they feel the same way. Other parents are in the midst of a divorce. Some students feel loved, but others don't feel that way at home. Some parents push their students too hard in school; others don't even seem to care. Each precious child comes from a different background, has different opinions, and needs to grow emotionally in different ways.
     The description for Jeffery says that he hates school, but it is so much more than that. He has a broken family with parents who are experiencing such grief that they can't get out of bed. There have been three points this fall when I had students saying that they hated school too. They refused to come. Thankfully, two of the parents didn't let their kids push them over and not come to school. All three of these children didn't want to come because of a deeper issue, either with friends, at home, or both.
     This book also talked about girl wars. I know girl wars all too well. This fall has been roughest emotionally on my girls. One of the group leaders from last year left, and two grades were combined into one class. This lead to a beginning of the year fight to see who will control the classroom dynamics. Like Alexia in Because of Mr. Terupt, one girl seemed most popular at the beginning and used this power to be friends with one girl one day and her enemy the next. By the end of December, all of the girls realized what she had been doing, and her world came crashing down. Some felt shunned by the other girls, which led to equally bad problems, which were made worse by things happening with other friends outside of school. I spent more days talking with girls about friendships and conflicts at recess than I can count. There are only 6 girls in my class, so they need to at least cooperate with each other and respect each other to survive the day.
     How do I handle this all as a teacher? Do students respect me even though I'm a first year teacher? Are there things I let slide that I shouldn't? Do I care for each child's emotional growth when dealing with them? Do I show them how much I care and love them?
     The last two days before Christmas break, the president got on the t.v. and announced that school was cancelled until January. I was heartbroken! How dare he cancel my two fun days that I had planned with my class?! They had worked so hard and earned so much. I had been looking forward to these days to show them how much I appreciated their hard work and loved them. Then the president cancelled them. What could I do? After sulking over the weekend, one of my roommates suggested getting together with them because that actually is a perfectly acceptable thing to do at my school. So, I invited them over for a Christmas cookie party. 9 of my 14 kids came. I gave them recipes for chocolate chip and sugar cookies. Then they ran off their energy outside and came back in to play Apples to Apples while we ate our cookies. After the party, one of the other teachers said to me, "Wow, you must love your kids a lot to have them all over." One of the students commented, "I bet the other teachers are really jealous that you get to have your class over for a party but they don't." Haha. I loved the difference of opinion. What's most important, though, was that my kids and I left for break knowing that we loved and cared for each other. Now, parties aren't the only way to show kids that I care (it's just the most recent). Earlier this fall, I made one child's month by asking him to do a video editing project for me.

     I highly recommend this book to teachers and students. Although with students, I would note that on the second page one of the boys talks about goofing off in the boys' bathroom and urinals, which I know some girls could be mortified to see a book talking about the boys' bathroom. This book also deals with special needs as becoming buddies with a self-contained class in their school changes several lives. There are lots of family situations represented. This is a great book for teachers to reflect on and students to learn about emotions, friendships, and family lives. Plus, there's a sequel, which I can't wait to read: Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

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